Aspen might not be the first place you think of for summer vacation, but this ski town nestled in the Rocky Mountains offers a good deal of adventures. Summer is also a great time to visit one of Colorado’s most upscale ski resorts with little damage to your pocketbook. With cars full of good friends and packs full of gear, we made the 3.5-hour trip from Denver to enjoy a summer weekend in one of Colorado’s best-known ski towns. Our goal: to explore this incredible landscape without breaking the bank.


There are a few free campsites situated around Aspen. They tend to fill up fast, so the first step of your budget weekend should be reserving a campsite in advance. Alternatively, get to Aspen as early as possible to find a place to pitch your tent. Whether you stay in a national forest or national park, always follow location rules, obey fire bans, and practice the leave-no-trace principles. This waterfall was about 100 feet from our designated campsite. Every night, we fell asleep to the soothing hum of the water.


Endless opportunities for adventure call for long days and little sleep. The Maroon Bells are the most photographed peaks in Colorado. Before 8:00 AM, you’ll have to pay a $10 vehicle fee plus the parking cost to get out there to see them, although you can also get there by bus. Head up around sunrise to find out why the Maroon Bells were given their name - for a short span of time, they glow an incredible maroon hue.


Don’t forget to take a hike. The breathtaking landscapes of the Aspen-Snowmass area are crisscrossed with trails for all abilities. Whether you’re looking for an undulating walk through a vibrant forest or a trek through sun-drenched mountainside with views of the town, Aspen offers a wide range of trails at the cost of only the gear on your back and a few snacks. When hiking, always come prepared with enough layers, food, and water.


If you’re looking for a little more than a casual stroll through the woods, try trail running. In Aspen, trail running is one of the more challenging (free) activities available to get your heart pumping. Just make sure to drink plenty of water and pay attention to how your body is feeling; at this elevation, you’re sure to get the views and workout you’re craving.


After a morning of adventure, head into town for a relaxing time at one of Aspen’s public parks. A little rest and relaxation are sure to get you rejuvenated while having summertime fun at 7,908 feet above sea level.


If you have a permit, grab your gear and head out fishing. Aspen’s lakes have crystal-clear water and are framed by striking mountains drenched in aspen groves and pine trees. Whether you’re an experienced fisherman or new to the game, you’ll have a great time in the stunning surroundings.


Mountain biking lets you take in a lot of the scenery while having a blast with friends or family. Aspen has tons of trails for every skill level, so bring your own mountain bike or borrow one from a friend and hit some of the single-track trails in the area.


A picnic is one of the cheapest ways to up your food game. While meals around Aspen can add up over a weekend, stocking up on snacks and groceries at a market and planning food for different activities can reduce your overall costs.


However, with both ambiance and taste for the price of one, Aspen restaurants do it right. If you do want to treat yourself, head to one of the many restaurants that have an outdoor patio for dining with a view. Bonus: Some establishments (such as the Red Onion, pictured above) offer outdoor seating with live music – so you can get delicious Colorado cooking, music, and views all for the cost of your meal.


Do you know any expert rock climbers? If you don’t have your own gear, or don’t know anyone to borrow from, renting it can be inexpensive. Pick up a harness and shoes in town, ask a knowledgeable friend to hit the crag with you, and head out to one of the towering walls around Aspen.


Campsites aren’t just for sleeping. Whether you’re cooking dinner, stargazing, or talking about the meaning of life, spending time at the campsite is often underrated. Make sure you make the most of nature by remembering to stop and savor the moment with good friends - under a sky speckled with an indescribable amount of stars.


It’s easy for groups to try stand-up paddleboarding in Aspen. Rent a board with a larger group and take turns shuttling people, giving everyone a chance to sightsee from the water while not breaking the bank. If you’re going to one of Aspen’s creeks, make sure to read the regulations on where you can access beaches because humans can seriously impact the riparian and marine ecosystems. Aspen wants to keep these areas pristine for all to enjoy.


A plethora of activities await you at the top of Aspen Mountain. If you prefer not to pay the $25 for a ride up the gondola, grab your pack and hike the 5.3-mile, round-trip Ute Trail, which connects to well-marked ski runs taking you up to the top of the mountain. If you make the hike up, you’re rewarded by being able to take the gondola down for free. With a sun deck, badminton, nature walks, and other activities, it’s easy to spend the better part of a day overlooking the surrounding Elk Range.


Make friends with the locals. From ski bums to TV stars, Aspen is home to many walks of life. George was one of the friendliest Aspen Ski employees we met, and he makes sure to greet everyone at the top of Aspen Mountain.


Who says kids are the only ones who can play with rope swings? Take a dip in one of Aspen’s swimming spots on your way out of town to feel refreshed for your drive home. (Just be sure to use eco-friendly sunscreen that won’t harm the aquatic life.) And get ready to tell everyone about all the money you saved during your action-packed Aspen weekend.